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Basketball coach receives $4 million termination settlement


Employers, even universities, can be held liable in a wrongful termination case by creating a pretext for firing an employee. Earlier this month, former San Diego State University women's basketball coach Beth Burns settled civil litigation for $4 million.

SDSU fired her in April of 2013 even though she had four years and $880,000 on her contract. The University claimed that it owed her nothing. The case began at what should have been a high-point in her career. Burns had experienced historic success as a coach at the time she was summoned for what she thought would be an annual review. The athletic director and human resource personnel confronted her with three options: resign, retirement or job termination.

She was not hired as a head coach since this firing. Burns was an assistant coach at USC for two years and was an assistant coach at Louisville this year.

Earlier attempts to settle the case were unsuccessful. Burns then filed a civil lawsuit claiming wrongful termination and whistleblower retaliation for her complaints about Title IX gender equity violations in San Diego Superior Court in 2014. CSU claimed that she was terminated for mistreating subordinates and elbowing an assistant coach during a game.

Burns won a $3.35 million verdict in her favor after a month-long trial involving dozens of witnesses and thousands of documents in 2016. The judge also held CSU responsible for $1.9 million in attorneys' fees and expenses in March of 2017. Interest was also being added on the judgment at 7 percent, or almost $235,000 each year.

CSU appealed, and the case then went to mediation in December of 2016. The mediation ultimately led to this settlement.

Burns will receive $1.55 million of the total settlement. The settlement also pays $2.45 million for her attorneys' fees. Another $1 million is being paid to another law firm involved in the case. The assistant coach who was allegedly elbowed on the bench will also receive $250,000.

Source: San Diego Union Tribune, "San Diego State settles lawsuit with former coach Beth Burns for $4 million," Mark Zeigler, April 5, 2018

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